The Unhindered Gospel

The Book of Acts closes on an amazing note. The final two verses find Paul in chains, under house arrest and guarded by Roman soldiers. Yet read the joyous note with which Paul’s situation is described: “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30–31).

The original Greek for “forbidding” here actually means “hindering.” The New American Standard Version says Paul preached and taught the gospel “with all openness, unhindered.” What an amazing statement, given that Paul was imprisoned. The gospel was “unhindered,” meaning unstopped, unobstructed. The author uses this testimony to close Acts with a powerful declaration: “The gospel cannot be hindered!”

Make no mistake, there were hindrances to Paul’s message on all sides. When he called on the Jewish leaders in Rome to visit him in his chains, they were indignant. They said, “We don’t even know you. Who are you to us?” When Paul did finally preach Christ to them, they ended up squabbling among themselves.

At the same time, the Emperor Nero was torturing and killing Christians in the streets of Rome. In fact, Paul himself would soon be martyred on those streets. Hell was spilling out, and Roman society had become one vast orgy. Homosexuality was a respected lifestyle, preferred among the intelligentsia. The entire culture was immersed in materialism, with the rampant pursuit of money, fame and pleasure.

All the while, there sat Paul, sent by God to bring the gospel to Rome but bound in chains. He had been rejected by a secularized Jewish religion that wanted no part of Christ’s gospel. He was persecuted by a godless government. And he was ridiculed by a society that had gone mad for riches and lusts.

Given these mountainous hindrances, how did God plan to impact the godless Roman Empire? What would be his method for building a church in Rome that would influence the world throughout the empire, for ages to come? Could it really be this jailed Jewish former terrorist, whose speech was said to be contemptible? Was Paul God’s best instrument to evangelize Rome and all its vast territories?

For two years, the apostle was shut up in this nondescript house on a side street. He had no associate evangelist, no Timothy or Barnabas, to work alongside him. He had no microphone to broadcast his messages. He had no consultants or political connections to help him. Paul simply had no planned program or agenda. And even if he did, he had no way to advertise it. He couldn’t go door-to-door evangelizing or hold street meetings.

No, Paul was just there. And yet he was absolutely contented with where God had placed him. He declared, in so many words, “Here I am, Lord. Use me as you see fit. I don’t know your plan, but I do know you put me here. Your gospel will go forth unhindered.”

Indeed, what God did through Paul’s situation was amazing. The Lord didn’t need some method to employ for his gospel to go forth. He only needed a single servant, and this one was hidden away on a back street, in a small rented house, under armed guard. Paul was a man without an ounce of charisma, someone with no eloquence of speech. Yet for two years, a steady stream of hungry souls from all walks of life came to him in his makeshift jail.

In fact, that little rented house served as the Holy Ghost’s Grand Central Headquarters for “Operation Rome.” Inside, God’s Spirit was raising up a devoted body of believers who would come out preaching the gospel with power and anointing. And they would take the good news of Christ to the farthest corners of the empire.

Could the Lord be telling us here not to look for bigness in ministry, not to focus on numbers or techniques? I do believe that if Paul were on the scene today beholding all the methods that have replaced Holy Ghost direction he would preach “downsizing.”

Yet, I believe there is another message here that gets more to the point. Simply put, God is telling us that the Holy Spirit can lay hold of any common person, bring him to a place of total dependence, and reach communities, cities, even nations, from the most insignificant places.

Why did these people come streaming into Paul’s house? Why did they respond to mere word of mouth, to hear a poor, non-celebrity preacher? I say it was because that house was filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus was present there, the Holy Spirit convicted all who entered, and Christ’s presence healed their hungry souls.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not preaching, “Be small.” I’m preaching, “God can use the most humble.” He can use anyone who’s willing to be stripped of all confidence in the flesh and be dependent on him for everything. And the Lord can do that with any Christian, from any walk of life. I know, because I’m an example of it. God found a skinny preacher in the Pennsylvania countryside and sent him to New York City to work with gangs and drug addicts. What could be more unlikely?

The history of God’s people is full of such testimonies. In the early 1900s, a revival broke out in Los Angeles that launched the modern-day Pentecostal movement. It all started in a little clapboard house church in a lowly neighborhood, on a street called Azusa. People came from all over the world to go there and experience God’s presence.

Daily prayer meetings were held on the second floor, and the pastor — a humble African-American man named Seymour — prayed for hours with his head inside a wooden box. Eyewitnesses told of visiting pastors and evangelists who walked into those meetings and fell on their faces, confessing their sins and weeping for days at a time.

What is the message here? It’s that the gospel of Jesus Christ knows no hindrances. It doesn’t matter what kind of opposition comes from the world. Nothing — not Communism, secularism or atheism — is an obstacle to the gospel. God says, “You may think you see hindrances before you, but I see none. I don’t need money or an army for my plan to come about. I need only a single humble servant in order to accomplish my work. And I will do it in the smallest, most obscure places, using society’s most insignificant people.”

In the two years Paul spent in that humble house in Rome, his soul was completely at rest. He wasn’t discouraged by the small numbers of believers in Rome at the time. The fact is, Paul had total confidence in the power of the gospel he preached. Rome’s religious Jews may have rejected his ministry, but Paul knew that God had his people hidden away in the city.

In spite of all the incredible hindrances, the Holy Ghost moved on Luke to put these glorious words to paper and have them emblazoned in Scripture: “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:31, NASV). Here was a statement God made to his church for centuries to come: “The gospel cannot be hindered. Preach it with all confidence!”

Oh, let the heathen rage! Let Islamics boast that Allah will prevail. Let the atheistic, elitist establishment try to legislate God out of society. Let the supreme courts legalize gay marriage. Let persecutors threaten, let principalities and powers mock and curse. I tell you, none can hinder the preaching of the cross and resurrection of Christ. The gates of hell shall never prevail against this Word, or be able to stop the power and might of the gospel.

According to Scripture, evil men in this world are growing worse by the day. And I’m convinced Paul could not have imagined the hindrances God’s people face today. Jesus prophesied of a time when world conditions would become so fearsome that people’s hearts would fail them, as they learn of the horrid things happening all around.

We are living in those last, terrifying days right now, and the signs are everywhere. Europe is becoming wholly pagan, with the institution of marriage being rejected, partners living together and family values vanishing altogether. In Sweden, 30 percent of the population lives together unmarried.

Here in New York State, we’re seeing a “great falling away” of the kind Scripture predicts. Some 410 pastors have enlisted for a homosexual agenda called “Pride in My Pulpit,” in which they hang signs in their churches bearing this motto. The message is, “We’re proud of the homosexual community, and we endorse it.” The numbers of these pastors are growing.

In Islamic nations — Uzbekistan and Pakistan especially — believers are being jailed and beaten. Islamics worldwide are building mosques sponsored by Middle East oil money. Now international think tanks are saying the situation is one of “Islam against all other religions,” “Islam against democracy,” “Islam against Christianity.” The Islamic boast is, “We are going to destroy infidel Christianity.”

We know the Lord will not allow any such forces to shut down his gospel. If the message of the Cross is going to triumph before Christ returns, how will it happen?

I can only speak as one man. Personally, I don’t believe the Lord’s plan will happen through any one person’s concept of world evangelism. I don’t care to hear or read about any such methods to reach multitudes. Instead, I believe I am to be focused on only one thing, and that is the day I stand before Christ to give an account of my life and ministry. On that day, all my works — all of my ministry, everything I did in his name — will be tried by fire.

Paul writes, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth… Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:10, 13).

That day of accounting, when we stand before his throne, is called “the day of our Lord” (1:8). In that hour, my life and yours will face the fire of the Lord’s holy presence. And that fire is going to reveal the quality of our works, whether they were of God or of our flesh. Many of these works will survive, while others will be utterly consumed.

Now, I believe that the souls I have won will not be lost. And the sacrifices I have made won’t be in vain. Every cup of cold water I’ve given to his servants will receive a reward. In short, I am confident of my salvation, because I’m confident in my Savior, that I will not be cast aside.

Yet, as Peter writes, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). Peter is speaking about judgment in the house of God. And I for one do not want to be “scarcely saved.”

Paul offers this counsel: “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31–32). So, how are we to judge ourselves, as Paul says to do?

Here is the criterion by which I constantly judge myself: I ask, “Have I in any way hindered the gospel of Christ?” We know that the world cannot hinder the gospel. But the fact is, we who preach it can hinder it. Paul judged himself on this matter, writing, “(I) suffer all things, lest (I) should hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).

The apostle is telling us, in essence, “I have to be careful of how I present the gospel. If I’m materialistically minded, or if I harbor covetousness or lust, I cannot possibly represent Christ accurately. It would cause a hindrance to the gospel I present. No, the way I live has to be a part of the gospel I preach.”

Consider the Corinthians in Paul’s time. They were bringing fancy foods to the feast table, while the poor among them didn’t have any food at all. Paul told them, in so many words, “You’re not really concerned about the needs of Christ’s body if your eye is only fixed on how to better your own life. You simply can’t be focused on God’s concerns if you don’t care whether your brother has enough money for his next meal.”

Any works or ministry that’s done with such a mindset won’t endure the Lord’s holy fire. Large numbers, successful methods and monumental achievements won’t mean anything in that hour, because God judges the motives of the heart. The question we have to ask ourselves today is, “Am I doing this for recognition? To be somebody? To secure my own future, with no regard for my brothers or sisters in need?”

Make no mistake: the gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth unhindered, mighty and unstoppable. But this happens only when it is preached and taught in its fullness. It has to be delivered in the context of “the whole counsel of God.” As Paul says, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, italics mine).

A watered-down half-gospel is an abomination to the Lord. You see, I could write to you each month, saying, “Jesus loves you and wants to bless you. He wants you to enjoy your life. He desires to give you miracle after miracle.” This would be pure gospel truth.

But it is only half the truth of the gospel. The whole gospel also includes warnings against the deceitfulness of sin. It includes repentance and godly sorrow, preparation for persecution, and a yearning for the coming of Christ. Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms, “Follow…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The gospel of Christ always confronts man and then brings comfort to him. It will never accommodate the likes of sinful men.

Yes, Jesus ministered miracles. He delivered up bread and meat to the multitudes. But the day came when he no longer performed or preached miracles. Instead, he told his followers, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part in me.”

I am not a prophet, but the Holy Spirit has led me to deliver some prophetic messages that have been considered by many to be too hard. Some people have called me a doomsday preacher. And I readily admit I’ve preached some messages that caused me to walk right out the church doors, go home and weep. Yet this was all because of one verse: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15).

It doesn’t matter how I may feel on a given Sunday. At no time may I preach from my flesh and condemn the just. Likewise, I cannot deliver a message that justifies the sin in anyone’s heart.

Occasionally after a service, I will put on earphones and replay the message I just preached. And sometimes I tremble as I listen, asking the Lord, “Oh, God, did I cross a line? Did I condemn your righteous saints here? Did I unconsciously wound your servants?” On other occasions, I ask, “Jesus, did I preach only half of your gospel in this sermon? Did I give a sermon that makes people feel good about their sins? Did I give them false comfort by watering down your call to turn from iniquity?” The only hindrance to his gospel is the unbelief in our hearts.

Have you given up believing God to do the impossible? Do you still believe his saving Word is unstoppable? Our Lord says nothing is impossible with him. And no barrier, manmade or spiritual, can hinder his gospel.

If you have a loved one who doesn’t know Jesus, rest assured in this: any gospel seed you have planted, no matter how humble, is a mighty one. And it will get through. It may happen only on a deathbed, but God has heard your prayer, and his Word will not return void. The devil can’t stop it, the spirit of the age can’t stop it, no man or army can stop it. As Luke has declared: “This gospel cannot be hindered!”